GOWANUS — The Gowanus Canal Superfund cleanup will move forward, no matter who's in the White House, an official with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency assured worried locals at a meeting Tuesday night.
Hours after news broke that President Donald Trump had ordered EPA employees to stop communicating with the media, and a day after Trump put a freeze on EPA grants and contracts, Gowanus residents gathered for a regularly scheduled monthly meeting where federal EPA officials give updates on the $506 million Superfund cleanup of the contaminated canal.
EPA's community involvement coordinator, Natalie Loney, wasted no time addressing "the elephant in the room," as she called it.
"We are going to move forward with the cleanup," Loney said, noting that the cleanup plan for the canal had been written into law and couldn't be renegotiated.
"The Superfund law was written so it wouldn’t be buffeted by the sways of political changes within the administration," Loney said.
As for fears that Congress could slow the cleanup down by de-funding Superfund, Loney said that wouldn't affect the cleanup of the canal, because the Gowanus cleanup is being paid for by the companies who polluted the canal, not by federal dollars, Loney said.
In Gowanus, the EPA has named the City of New York and National Grid as two of the biggest "responsible parties," or polluters. National Grid recently won permission from state regulators to increase gas bills citywide to pay for its portion of the cleanup.
Loney downplayed fears over reports that Trump ordered the EPA to halt grant and contract awards and cease communicating with the public. She said those moves "aren't unheard of" when a new administration takes the reins, and that the freeze on contracts and grants wouldn't affect the Gowanus cleanup.
"We're not tweeting, we're not engaging in any kind of policy conversations," Loney said, adding that she's still free to talk about the "nuts and bolts" of the cleanup with the public.
She added: "For many of us here, this is new territory, the change in administration, but this is something that the agency and many agencies go through on a semi-regular basis, so we’re pretty comfortable with it."
The 1.4-mile Gowanus Canal was named a Superfund site in 2011, meaning that the EPA will oversee a cleanup of the heavily polluted waterway, which was used as a dumping ground by nearby industrial businesses for more than a century. The Superfund cleanup will take several years. It started with debris removal late last year and isn't expected to be finished until at least 2022.